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Johannes Müller SJ {*}

Rio plus 20


From: Stimmen der Zeit, 6/2012, P. 361 et sequ.
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


From 20 to 22 June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro the "Earth Summit on Sustainable Development" will take place, twenty years after the "Earth Summit" in the same Brazilian city. What has been achieved since then? The result is ambivalent: Without the "Earth Summit" the global environmental situation would undoubtedly be far worse. There are a number of important conventions - as e.g. the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) or the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention to Combat Desertification. In addition, due to numerous local initiatives, the awareness of environmental problems has globally grown. On the other hand, the measures taken are often at best half-hearted; many states refuse their cooperation, and a whole series of problems has even not yet been tackled. Despite some progress, the threat of a global ecological collapse is therefore far from being averted, as the laborious negotiations for a successor agreement on the protection of the global climate reveal.

The Conference of the United Nations in Rio, which will be attended by numerous heads of state, should therefore thematize new urgent challenges and ensure political support for joint action. Besides a large number of individual issues (including water, soil, forest, biodiversity, energy policy, waste), the focus will be on two topics, namely green economy and the creation of an effective institutional framework for sustainable development.

There is widely agreed that the diverse and closely intertwinded environmental problems cannot be solved by some minor corrections. They require a departure from the current model of civilization. The growth-oriented, resource-and carbon-intensive economy of the industrialized countries is not sustainable, especially as it is quite successfully adopted by more and more countries, especially emerging countries such as China and India. "The stipulation must not be 'catching up and passing'" (Cornelia Füllkrug-Weitzel), if also future generations are to live in conditions fit für human beings. Rio should therefore point the way toward a "green" economy, towards sustainable production and consumption patterns, which take the finiteness of natural resources into account, and at the same time reduce global poverty. In its flagship report 2011, the "German Advisory Council on Global Change" (WBGU) speaks of a "global transformation" because of "multiple crises." What is lacking to date is an international consensus on what constitutes a green economy, and how it must be approached.



It will be of crucial importance to link this program with the objective of poverty reduction, and to involve adequately all emerging nations in the negotiations. The climate conferences in recent years have failed not least due to significant deficiencies regarding this matter. It's about an "including sustainability" (Jan Pronk), i.e. an environmental policy that attaches high priority to the interests of the poor. A new development paradigm must be the aim: It affords not only a privileged minority of countries and people prosperity. The "Human Development Report 2011" of the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) refers to it under the heading "Sustainability and Justice: A better future for all." The Rio Conference therefore wants to integrate the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations into its program. But this will only be of real significance if one does not exclude the issue of global redistribution, with a view to the global common good.

However, it is easier to achieve progress with regard to an institutional reform of global environmental policy. There are numerous proposals for it. Two alternatives are especially discussed: the institutional upgrading of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) or a "Council for Sustainable Development" - with clear and verifiable environmental targets and far-reaching powers. In view of about 500 international environmental agreements with various institutions, this is an indispensable prerequisite for an effective environmental policy. Besides, it is only thus possible to strengthen the weight of this policy field against powerful actors such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Given the hitherto quite tentative draft of the final document, one should eschew too great expectations. There is therefore rather skepticism among civil society players, up to boycott considerations. This conference is nevertheless important, because it may at least define some guidelines; it creates international attention especially in developing countries, and a boycott would be a signal of resignation.

But the disappointment at the poor results of many international conferences is also salutary. Currently almost everywhere in the world, there is a change in strategy towards more decentralized initiatives, particularly in climate policy. This means a departure from the dream of universal agreements, with which one could definitely bind all the states to specific targets. This is also a change in thinking, compared to a naive understanding of globalization. Such an approach in many small steps is presumably the only realistic way. One must try to promote the change from below: by making the civil society, businesses as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) players. Only in this way the step from thinking to action may be successful. Due to their rich heritage, religions are able here to make an important contribution, if they not only preach action-guiding ethics of proper moderation as model for institutions and virtue ethics but are also pioneers in the implementation.


Link to 'Public Con-Spiration for-with-of the Poor'